Raphael Vassallo | Sunday, 21 June 2009
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Fear not: ‘tis but an Isurus oxyrinchus...

WARNING: This article is littered with italics and incomprehensible Latin names.

It’s OK, folks. You read the headline. No need to panic: just when we all thought it was unsafe to go back into the water, what do you know? It turns out to be infinitely more dangerous staying on land...
Remember those three large sharks caught by Maltese fishermen a couple of weeks ago? Well, I’ve got some good news for a change. We have now had it confirmed from the most authoritative source imaginable,that they were not Great Whites after all. I repeat: not Great Whites. They were only Lesser Shortfin Makos. Or for the more icthyologically inclined among you: not Charcarodon carcharias, but merely Isurus oxyrinchus. Thank goodness... I can’t tell you how much safer that’s made me feel.

For you see, while people out there in the real world were working themselves up into a furore about matters as intensely inconsequential as irregular immigration, or the price of water and electricity bills, or...

Hang on, that reminds me. Never mind all those energy-saving light bulbs and photovoltaic whatdoyoucall’ems: the fastest and most effective way to economise on water and electricity – and this has been confirmed by, not one, not two, not three, but four (4) clinical studies – is to just stop washing altogether, and live in the dark.

Right, now where was I? Ah yes. Instead of fretting about silly nonsense like the global economic recession, or the cost of living, or even Swine Flu, and how it never seems to infect any of the people you know who really deserve it... I’ve been busy fretting about real causes for concern for a change: such as, for instance, the imminent danger of meeting my untimely demise at the jaws of a giant Carcharodon carcharias, of the kind pictured below right.
Not, mind you, that the likelihood was ever going to be high. Even on those rare occasions when part of my anatomy actually does make contact with the sea – the last time being once, by accident, long long ago – the odds that a Great White Shark should happen to cruise by at that precise instant are at best remote. And leaving aside facetious analogies involving building contractors and Great White Taxi Drivers, these odds tend overwhelmingly to diminish the longer you remain on dry land.
But, damn it, that only makes me all the more convinced that such, in spite of all my well-lain precautions, will one day be my fate.
“Not swimming” is after all no watertight guarantee that one will never be eaten by a large and critically endangered ocean-going predator. Who knows? Maybe I will be unexpectedly washed out to sea by a freak wave. Maybe I’ll somehow drive off the ramp while trying to board the Gozo ferry at Cirkewwa. There are after all a hundred thousand waysyou can accidentally end up in the sea without meaning to... and whensoever, howsoever, it comes about in my case: there, sure enough, will my very own personal Carcharodon carcarias be waiting...
So coming back to those three sharks I mentioned earlier, and the reason I was so elated to discover that – unlike the Maltese government, the CIA, my next-door neighbour, or the Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Baby Jesus – they were not actually out to get me.
Truth be told, there is another, less overtly selfish reason for my relief at this particular discovery. For as I took great pains to let slip in the above intro, the confirmation of shark species came from “the most authoritative source imaginable”.
And which authoritative source may that have been, I hear you ask? Which office of which department gets to look into the complexities of the Condrychthyes, and then pass judgement on which of the Elasmobranchii may correctly be called a “Great White”, and which on the other hand has to content itself with the lesser title of “Pixxiplamptu” instead?
Let’s see now: God the Father, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who sits at the right hand of his chosen son, Peppi?
Emmy Bezzina LLD, who once took a part-time course at University, and therefore knows absolutely everything there is to be known about everything?
Or could it be European Commissioner Joe Borg, currently being paid bucketsful of European taxpayers’ money to pretend to know something about fish?
None of the above. Believe it or not, it was Mepa wot did it. That’s right; Mepa. It seems our Malta Environment and Planning Authority took time out of its busy, ODZ permit granting schedule – and even cancelled a “public vote” on a construction project it had already approved in secret – in order to do what it does best: i.e., settle a media dispute over the misclassification of some obscure specimen of the sub-order Galeiformes.
By the same token, I assume the Veterinary Fisheries Control Commission in Marsa is now the place to go when you want a building permit sanctioned. As for queries about air pollution, noise levels, or planning issues in your particular locality... don;t worry, just address your query (in triplicate) to the Department of Marine Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Malta, Tal-Qroqq.
Honestly, this country’s getting more surreal by the minute...

But hey, let’s look on the bright side. It seems that over 15 years’ worth of experience in fishy permits has finally paid off, and Mepa can now distinguish at a glance between a Carcharodon carcharias and an Isurus oxyrinchus. With a bit of luck, who knows? Maybe one day in the distant future, the same Malta Environment and Planning Authority will similarly be able to tell the difference between...
... an “Inside” and an “Outside” development zone application.
... a “washroom on the roof”, and a “tastefully converted two-bedroomed Valletta penthouse with breathtaking harbour views”.
... an illegally occupied plot of land in Armier, and an equally illegally occupied plot of land in Gnejna.
... Sliema, and a free (or at least, very cheap) parking site for non-EU specification tower cranes.
... A giant ashtray and Birzebbugia... or for that matter, any other locality in the South.
Trust me, the possibilities are endless.

And this, by the way, is the extent of Mepa’s expertise before Lawrence Gonzi has even had the chance to reform the authority. What on earth are we to expect afterwards? Well, I suppose it doesn’t really matter in the end. By that time I will long have been eaten by that Carcharodon carcharias, anyway...


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